A Word From a VBS Valedictorian

Trekking incognito along the Emmaus Road, shortly after his resurrection, unrecognized even by the few of his own disciples who walked with him, Jesus challenged the groans of perplexity and faithlessness:

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24.25-27)

All of the Scriptures speak about Jesus? Really? Yep.  And in the video above, this young guy recounts the overarching reflections of the Messiah revealed in every book of the Bible.


Suggested Reading for Season of Lent

The Season of Lent is a time of preparation and anticipation.  It is a season that should be characterized reflection, soul-searching, repentance, and ultimately looking forward to celebration – the celebration of all Jesus accomplished for us on the Cross. As Daniel Montgomery, of Sojourn Church writes: “Lent helps us focus on why He had to die.”

Traditionally speaking, Lent is often associated with fasting – whether from certain foods, or some other habit or practice.  It is important we understand that there is no merit n fasting. Benefit, maybe. Merit, no.  The purpose of fasting is to remind us how dependent we become on things rather than God.  This reveals to us our need to repent. It whets our appetite for the grace of God in Christ.

With this in mind, here are a few readings I suggest for the Season of Lent:

Entering Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, which means we have now entered into the Season of Lent.  If you are not from a church with a liturgical background Lent probably won’t mean much.  In fact, for some it may even evoke some negative connotations. While I understand those sentiments, I wish they were not so.  At least, I wish more Evangelical Christians would be open to the beauty and grace of this ecclesiastical season.

One of the primary emphases of the Season of Lent is repentance.  On the ecclesiastical calendar it is a time when Christians are encouraged to fast, sacrifice, and to recognize how prone we are to become dependent upon things rather than on God.  It is intended to be a time of reflection and renewed commitment to dependence upon the Lord.  But in non-litugical circles Lent is ignored, if not even scoffed about.  Contemporary Evangelicals often point to the deadness of ritualistic practice, and  eschew it altogether.

I am not part of a litugical tradition. Nor am I necessarily encouraging everyone to embrace litugical practices.  But I do believe there might be some benefits “normal” Believers might be able to glean from our litugical side of the Family of God.  Maybe there are some things that we can consider that would break us out of our own dull routines.  It seems to me that we may be able to engage in some practices without them necessarily leading to ritualistic deadness.

So weather you adorn your forehead with ashes today or not (and I won’t be), I hope you will give some thought to how you can spend the next 40 days in spiritual renewal.  Below are a few short articles by guys from non-liturgical traditions about what they have learned and why they embrace this ecclesiastical season.

Some Guiding Principles for Worship

Most Christians would probably acknowledge that worship is important, essential even.  But what exactly are we supposed to do? What is worship, exactly.  Is it any thought or action offered to God?

Below are a few simple thoughts that I hope will be helpful to shape your practical expectations…


God calls us to worship Him together. The pictures of worship in the Pentateuch, Psalms, Revelation, etc.,  for example, are of throngs of people worshipping God… TOGETHER. We do not come to Sunday worship service to worship God individually. We come to worship Him as a church family together.


We should be on time to worship service. We should sing our best and give attention to all that goes on in the service. We should make sure our children know the importance of going to worship. If we are leading in worship, we should maintain high standards of performance. Why? Because we should want to give God the best. He deserves it.

Our attitude ought to be like King David’s, who said:

“I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing” (2 Samuel 24.24)


Worship should engage our intellect and emotions. Our worship service is designed to have intellectual and emotional tension, challenging and stimulating the mind and heart.

Physical Expression

Not only should worship engage our intellect and emotions, but it should involve our bodies, too. The Bible gives us examples of how to use our bodies to worship God:

Each of these actions demonstrates a recognition of a different attribute of God:

  • His majesty
  • His creatorship
  • His victoriousness
  • His power for healing


In the Bible, we see the use of both that which is ancient & time-honored, as well as that which is new & spontaneous. Our worship is a blend of the use of traditional music & liturgies, which ground us in the worship of the Church Universal, and contemporary songs and newly-created prayers, creeds and litanies, which allow us to express ourselves in our contemporary culture and to use the creative imagination God has given us.


> Of the Congregation

The members of the congregation are, ultimately, all responsible for worshipping God. This is one of the implications of the priesthood of all believers. (1 Peter 2.5)   Our attitudes and actions are the primary elements of the worship service. We should participate fully in all elements of the liturgy because they are not meant solely, or even primarily, for our benefit, but for the glory of God.  Our main concern should be: “Is God pleased with our worship?”

> Of Worship Leaders

There are many ways in which one can assist the congregation in worship:

  • designing the worship service
  • ushers & greeters
  • managing the lighting and audio systems
  • song leaders/cantors & singers
  • instrumentalist
  • leading in public prayer
  • offering public testimony
  • serving The Lord’s Supper
  • collecting the tithes & offerings
  • explaining God’s Word

All of these roles are meant not only to benefit the congregation directly, but to encourage the congregation to worship God… to give to Him the glory due His name.

The Therapeutic Gospel

What may be the most famous chapter in all of western literature portrays the appeal of a “therapeutic gospel.”

In his chapter entitled “The Grand Inquisitor,” Fyodor Dostoevsky imagines Jesus returning to sixteenth century Spain (The Brothers Karamazov, II:5:v). But Jesus is not welcomed by church authorities. The cardinal of Seville, head of the Inquisition, arrests and imprisons Jesus, condemning him to die. Why? The church has shifted course. It has decided to meet instinctual human cravings, rather than calling men to repentance. It has decided to bend its message to felt needs, rather than calling forth the high, holy, and difficult freedom of faith working through love. Jesus’ biblical example and message are deemed too hard for weak souls, and the church has decided to make it easy.

The Grand Inquisitor, representing the voice of this misguided church, interrogates Jesus in his prison cell. He sides with the tempter and the three questions the tempter put to Jesus in the wilderness centuries before. He says that the church will give earthly bread instead of the bread of heaven. It will offer religious magic and miracles instead of faith in the Word of God. It will exert temporal power and authority instead of serving the call to freedom. “We have corrected Your work,” the inquisitor says to Jesus.

The inquisitor’s gospel is a therapeutic gospel. It’s structured to give people what they want, not to change what they want. It centers exclusively around the welfare of man and temporal happiness. It discards the glory of God in Christ. It forfeits the narrow, difficult road that brings deep human flourishing and eternal joy. This therapeutic gospel accepts and covers for human weaknesses, seeking to ameliorate the most obvious symptoms of distress. It makes people feel better. It takes human nature as a given, because human nature is too hard to change. It does not want the King of Heaven to come down. It does not attempt to change people into lovers of God, given the truth of who Jesus is, what he is like, what he does.


The most obvious, instinctual felt needs of twenty-first century, middle-class Americans are different from the felt needs that Dostoevsky tapped into. We take food supply and political stability for granted. We find our miracle-substitute in the wonders of technology. Middle-class felt needs are less primal. They express a more luxurious, more refined sense of self-interest:

  • I want to feel loved for who I am, to be pitied for what I’ve gone through, to feel intimately understood, to be accepted unconditionally;
  • I want to experience a sense of personal significance and meaningfulness, to be successful in my career, to know my life matters, to have an impact;
  • I want to gain self-esteem, to affirm that I am okay, to be able to assert my opinions and desires;
  • I want to be entertained, to feel pleasure in the endless stream of performances that delight my eyes and tickle my ears;
  • I want a sense of adventure, excitement, action, and passion so that I experience life as thrilling and moving.

The modern, middle-class version of therapeutic gospel takes its cues from this particular family of desires. We might say that the target audience consists of psychological felt needs, rather than the physical felt needs that typically arise in difficult social conditions. (The contemporary “health and wealth” gospel and obsession with “miracles” express something more like the Grand Inquisitor’s older version of therapeutic gospel.)

In this new gospel, the great “evils” to be redressed do not call for any fundamental change of direction in the human heart. Instead, the problem lies in my sense of rejection from others; in my corrosive experience of life’s vanity; in my nervous sense of self-condemnation and diffidence; in the imminent threat of boredom if my music is turned off; in my fussy complaints when a long, hard road lies ahead. These are today’s significant felt needs that the gospel is bent to serve. Jesus and the church exist to make you feel loved, significant, validated, entertained, and charged up. This gospel ameliorates distressing symptoms. It makes you feel better. The logic of this therapeutic gospel is a jesus-for-Me who meets individual desires and assuages psychic aches.

The therapeutic outlook is not a bad thing in its proper place. By definition, a medical-therapeutic gaze holds in view problems of physical suffering and breakdown. In literal medical intervention, a therapy treats an illness, trauma, or deficiency. You don’t call someone to repentance for their colon cancer, broken leg, or beriberi. You seek to heal. So far, so good.

But in today’s therapeutic gospel the medical way of looking at the world is metaphorically extended to these psychological desires. These are defined just like a medical problem. You feel bad; the therapy makes you feel better. The definition of the disease bypasses the sinful human heart. You are not the agent of your deepest problems, but merely a sufferer and victim of unmet needs. The offer of a cure skips over the sin-bearing Savior. Repentance from unbelief, willfulness, and wickedness is not the issue. Sinners are not called to a U-turn and to a new life that is life indeed. Such a gospel massages self-love. There is nothing in its inner logic to make you love God and love any other person besides yourself. This therapeutic gospel may often mention the word “Jesus,” but he has morphed into the meeter-of-your-needs, not the Savior from your sins. It corrects Jesus’ work. The therapeutic gospel unhinges the gospel.

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Kingdom-Centered Prayer

Tim Keller writes:

Throughout the Old and New Testaments and church history, every spiritual awakening was founded on corporate, prevailing, intensive kingdom-centered prayer.  We cannot create spiritual renewal by ourselves, but we can “prepare the altar” and ask God to send his Holy Spirit to change our hearts, our churches, and our communities.

Read Tim’s tremendous article: Kingdom-Centered Prayer., from Redeemer City to City

Gospel Clarity for Missional Calling

The article below by World Harvest Mission‘s Josiah Bancroft is a tremendously insightful and clear explanation of the relationship of the gospel to culture.  Not only is this an important understanding for the mission field overseas, but Josiah explains why it is essential even within the local church in North America.

The video above is an interview with Josiah by Collin Hansen of The Gospel Coalition.


by Josiah Bancroft

How do you keep the gospel clear and focused on missional calling when so many competing forces, influences, and voices speak into your life, ministry, and church? I am learning that gospel clarity is tied in large part to how we understand our cross-cultural mission in very practical ways.

For example, I was picking up a large short-term team outside of Dublin to introduce them to our Irish partners and co-workers. When the jet-lagged U.S. visitors stumbled from the bus, one of the passengers asked to pray and gathered us around her. She thanked God for safe travel, for the opportunity to serve, and then prayed for “all our boys in harms way” and asked God to protect our troops from our enemies.

As soon as she said a tearful and happy amen and walked away, my Irish friends inundated me with questions: Who were “our boys”? Was the church supporting a national war? How were those “our” enemies that the U.S. troops were killing? Of course Ireland was neutral in the war, so their questions were reasonable and predictable. After all, they were Christians, not Americans.

Navigating culture and mission with gospel clarity doesn’t just happen, so how—practically—can we keep clear about the gospel while pursuing our cross-cultural missional calling? We all interpret the world as cultural beings. That’s how God has made us. And yet many American believers have struggled with the basic idea that they are part of a culture or a sub-culture. That is now changing.

With the rapid changes in U.S. culture during recent years, our churches are beginning to see U.S. culture more clearly. Our culture has changed so much and so quickly that the church sometimes struggles to engage. We are hard pressed to maintain the mental and spiritual clarity that can respond powerfully to a such pervasive cultural forces. So what can help us with our struggle? I’d like to make a few suggestions.

1. We Need Clear Kingdom Identity and Allegiance

As missional people we belong to the kingdom of God and live in the United States as strangers and aliens. Keeping my kingdom identity clear as a believer keeps me from identifying completely with this present age. God has given each of us a role in our culture, so we should embrace our lives and do well here. But this present time and place isn’t everything, and this age doesn’t fully define a believer. So while I work to bring all things under the rule of Christ in my life and mission, I do it as an outsider. Where I forget this missional identity, I can confuse my interests and culture with the kingdom of God. Then I lose my gospel clarity and muddle the message with my culture.

Practical Help: Keep the horizon of God’s larger global mission clearly in view even in local ministry work, so that all your concerns are kept in the right perspective for new kingdom people. Without this missional global horizon, local ministry easily appears so large to us that it obscures everything else.

2. We All Answered the Universal Call to Cross-cultural Missional Life

Since we are each part of God’s mission to reach the world, and because we live as strangers and aliens, therefore all of our ministry and mission is necessarily cross-cultural. All church planting is a cross-cultural exercise. All evangelism reaches across cultural boundaries, even in our own families and neighborhoods. The struggles between generations are in part cross-cultural conflicts, because the world has shifted so quickly and radically. Every attempt to reach out or serve in the church must recognize and communicate to our own culture with cross-cultural understanding and sensitivity. All ministry here is cross-cultural.

Practical Help: We need a steady flow of outsiders and missionaries who bring in tales of the kingdom moving and struggles to take the gospel into difficult places. What worked in Congo? What is God doing in Russia? How is the God moving in the Czech Republic? Hearing how culture works and is navigated practically in other places gives us new perspectives on what things belong to the kingdom and what belongs to the culture.

3. We Enter Other Cultures

As a missional people we are responsible to cross the cultural barriers with the gospel rather than wait and require those outside to come and understand. Actually that’s one of the big differences that came with the church in the first century. Everyone doesn’t have to become Jewish to have access to God. Today in the church we must learn the new languages, not the nations . . . remember Pentecost? We adapt rather than require others to “eat kosher.” We go, rather than having everyone come to us. When I bear the weight of reaching out to others, here or in foreign countries, I best imitate Christ who became like us in love and won us with great sacrifice. When the gospel is small in my life, when my flesh and home culture press in, then I am unwilling to change or sacrifice for others to bring them the gospel. Missions pushes me to clarify my commitment to the gospel and to Christ.

Practical Help: Get a larger heart for the world by spending time with others who love their enemies. That love is what motivated Christ to do the work of incarnation. Roll up your sleeves and find a place to sacrifice time, work, and money for the expansion of the kingdom in places you will never see as well as in your hometown. Turn every group in the church outward with a cross-cultural eye to be true missional communities.

4. We Go

We know the gospel is how we enter the kingdom. The gospel promises are also how we live daily before God in repentance and faith. And the gospel is the central message of the church as we go into the world. This might seem obvious, but it is so easy to mix cultural pieces into our speaking about Christ that we need to be clear. Paul tells Titus in his church planting and leadership to emphasize—even insist on—and confidently affirm the gospel as the life and message of the church (Titus 3:8).

Practical Help: Get involved in short-term missions and create a global missional team to find those in your fellowship who need to go. Join with cross-cultural workers who have more experience so that you can learn from them. The New Testament way requires us to listen to these cross-cultural workers. Of course the greatest was Christ. But Paul also qualifies, and as a cross-cultural missionary he was wonderfully equipped to lead churches and planting in various places without confusing his culture or Roman culture with the call of the kingdom. I would love for our churches to find his gospel clarity and passion renewing us all for global missions and partnership in new ways.

Perhaps there is another way to say all of this simply. The gospel always leads us believers to a global vision and a heart willing to sacrifice for a lost world. That’s what it means to follow our Savior. And learning to keep our vision clear, listening to others engaged in that same struggle, and feeding your heart with the gospel promises and the kingdom calling from Scripture are all essential to keep our missional calling centered on the gospel.


Both the article and the video first appeared on The Gospel Coalition blog.

Lord of Heaven & Earth

Michael Horton, in his book The Gospel Commission, offers this important corrective perspective of Christ:

The privatized view of Jesus merely as ‘personal Lord and Savior’ does not really provoke controversy today.  After all, our non-Christian neighbors shrug: ‘Whatever works for you’.  However, these ascriptions of praise to Jesus Christ were subversive on the lips of early Christians in the Roman Empire. After all, they were titles that Caesar had ascribed to himself.  People could believe whatever they wanted to in private.  Whatever they found morally useful, therapeutically valuable, or spiritually and intellectually enlightening was fine.  In fact, when it came to gods, the more the merrier.  The Roman Empire was a melting pot of cultures and religions.  However, whatever varied religions and spiritualities it tolerated, Rome insisted that they contribute to the civil religion that included the cult of the emperor.  God could have his heaven, or the inner soul, but Caesar was ‘Lord of the Earth’.

The early Christians were not fed to wild beasts or dipped in wax and set ablaze as lamps in Nero’s garden because they thought Jesus was a helpful life coach or role model, but because they witnessed to him as the only Lord and Savior of the world.  Jesus does not just live in the private hearts of individuals as the source of an inner peace. He is the Creator, Ruler, Redeemer, and Judge of all the earth. And now he commands everyone everywhere to repent.

Horton’s contrast between the early days and the common contemporary caricature is stark.  While the contemporary view is not so much wrong as it is deceivingly inadequate, we would do well to recalibrate any simple ‘Jesus meek and mild’ notions by reflection on the provocative power portrayed in the testimony of the Forefathers of our Faith.

5 Life Changing Gospel Perspectives

There are 5 perspectives from the gospel that, when embraced and frequently pondered, shape lives:

  • The need to recognize that God calls for ongoing and continual growth and change in all of us.
  • The need to understand the extent and gravity of our sin.
  • The need to understand that the heart is central; that behavior and attitude is a reflection of the heart.
  • The need to understand the present benefits of Christ.
  • The need to live a Lifestyle of Repentance & Faith.

Source: How People Change by Tim Lane & Paul David Tripp

Gospel Fluency pt 2

I have been listening these past few days to the audio of Jeff Vanderstelt on Gospel Fluency.  The concept of Gospel Fluency is simply to learn to speak the language of the gospel, and gospel-centeredness, in every aspect of our everyday lives.

Like any language, the the vernacular surrounding gospel-centeredness may initially feel somewhat foreign, with all the theological concepts and jargon.  Compounding the uneasyness may be the fact that some of the words sound familiar, still it is not our native tongue. The only remedy, the only way to become fluent, is to immerse ourselves  in it.

In this second video Jeff builds upon a solid foundation of gospel understanding, and outlines the practical steps toward Gospel Fluency.  The message is just over one hour, but it will be an hour well spent.

I don’t know the dates and details yet, I do know Gospel Fluency will soon be released as a book.

Gospel Fluency pt 1

I have been listening these past few days to the audio of Jeff Vanderstelt on Gospel Fluency.  The concept of Gospel Fluency is simply to learn to speak the language of the gospel, and gospel-centeredness, in every aspect of our everyday lives.

Like any language, the the vernacular surrounding gospel-centeredness may initially feel somewhat foreign, with all the theological concepts and jargon.  Compounding the uneasyness may be the fact that some of the words sound familiar, still it is not our native tongue. The only remedy, the only way to become fluent, is to immerse ourselves  in it.

In this first video Jeff introduces the concept of Gospel Fluency, and lays a firm foundation of gospel understanding.  The message is just over one hour, but it will be an hour well spent.

I don’t know the dates and details yet, I do know Gospel Fluency will soon be released as a book.

Numbering Those on the Ranch

With the following illustration, Alan Hirsch offers a different way of gauging a church’s effectiveness:

In some farming communities, the farmers might build fences around their properties to keep their livestock in and the livestock of neighbor farms out.  This is a bounded set. But in rural communities where farms or ranches cover an enormous geographic area, fencing a property is out of the question. In our home of Australia, ranches (called Stations) are so vast that fences are superfluous. Under these conditions a farmer has to sink a bore and create a well, a precious water supply in the Outback.  It is assumed that livestock, though they will stray, will never roam too far from the well, lest they die.  That is centered set.  As long as there is a clean supply of water the livestock will remain close by.

The essential difference is between measuring Influence instead of simply membership and/or attendance.  The bounded-set, as Hirsch calls it, draws a clear line between those on the inside (i.e. members and regular attenders) and those outside.  The centered-set, on the other hand, measures how many people are in some relation to the ministry of the church and gauges the various relative distances from the center values.

Though I do not see these grids as being mutually exclusive, as if one must choose one or the other, I do find Hirsch to have provided a helpful distinction.

In our church, for instance, we have some precious members who do not regularly participate in any of the Life of the Church. They come occasionally to any number of things, including infrequently to the Sunday morning worship service. To assume we are having an active influence in their spiritual growth would be, at best, presumptuous. On the other hand, there are people who are not members of our church, nor even attenders, but who are being actively influenced through ministries of counseling, discipleship, mercy, etc.  While these folks are not part of the quantifiable membership, they are nevertheless beneficiaries of the mission of the church.   In many ways some of these folks are closer to our center-set than are some of the irregular members.

So again, as I think about it, I see both of these grids as being beneficial.  In fact, I would hope to see growth on both gauges.  We long to see our influence expand, and realize that many whom we influence will never become part of our congregation. Some are members of other churches, and therefore should stay there and bless the people in those churches.  But we also should be laboring, and praying, for those who are not part of a particular congregation to become connected to some expression of of the visible church – hopefully many with ours.

So, I don’t see that we need to make a choice between these two ways of measuring our congregations. I think we ought to use both. But, I guess, since relatively few are aware of Hirsch’s Ranch, we would be wise to spend our energies to cultivate and cast the importance of the centered-set.